Conjura en Caracas / Israel Centeno

Conspiracy in Caracas

A daring historian could affirm that, from the 19th century until today, Venezuela can be associated with the syndrome of continuous conspiracy.

The final decade of the previous century was no different. One afternoon during those years convulsed by two coup attempts, rumors of social explosion and expectations fulfilled, after having published my first novel, Calletania, some friends invited me to a meeting at an apartment in downtown Caracas. The atmosphere was charged with murmurs, with music and with the thick halo of cigarette smoke. Ricardo Azuaje instigated the meeting, we were gathering to conspire. You could smell, beyond the alcohol vapors, the sour boastfulness of adrenaline, you could feel the suspense and expectations pulsing in the skin of those of us who, scattered on the floor, listened to salsa by the Fania All-Stars and to Nina Simone. You could sense we were on the eve of something, an event, an intriguing reality: writing a collaborative novel between six or eight people. We were immediately seized by enthusiasm, the grace of those who have discovered themselves as writers once they hear the resonance of their voices and wish to make it tangible in books.

At the time, Ricardo Azuaje had published Juana la roja y Octavio el sabrio. Maybe he was already working on Viste de verde nuestra sombra. Both novels reinvented themselves through humor, submerged with unexpected freshness in urban realities, in recent history, in urticant dailiness. Rubi Guerra had two collections of short stories out in which he debated between the glance of Juan Rulfo, ellipsis and the distortion of mirages in the petroleum fields that had already been narrated so accurately by Gustavo Díaz Solís in Arco secreto.

Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez was writing his first book of short stories Historias del edificio, and it’s likely he was outlining Retrato de Abel con isla volcánica al fondo; regarding my Calletania or El rabo del diablo, others will speak.

At that moment of conspiracy, we were brought together by the need to create a great novel, we were still naive and as with all events marked by a conspiratorial nature, we designed a strategy, and we delegated the responsibility for each one of the seditious members to elaborate a chapter in the story. We feverishly discussed the details, and sometimes it was hard to agree, but we were possessed by our certainty, we were rediscovering the power of the anecdote and the infinite possibilities of fictionalizing reality.

As we know, and as it tends to happen with the majority of plots, the illusion of creating the collective text and giving Venezuelan literary reality a smack in the face didn’t even reach a second discussion. Each one of us returned to our lives, to our immediate affairs, necessities and individual tastes took precedence, which is natural; only once in a while, during other encounters, someone has dared to bring up, for the sake of embarrassing us, the arrogance of that endeavor.

We also know, or I want to make it known, that it wasn’t an event lacking in transcendence because, as my grandfather said quoting a teacher: only works create faith. Ricardo Azuaje, focused on his tasks, reaffirmed his initial proposals, he wrote La expulsión del Paraíso. Rubi Guerra has moved beyond his dilemmas, he has consolidated a differentiated and solid voice in the map of literature written in Spanish. I would dare to risk that, along with Ednodio Quintero and José Napoleón Oropeza, he is one of the country’s most relevant short story writers in the second half of the century that just passed and of the one that now begins. He will give us much to talk about, it’s enough to read El discreto enemigo and Un sueño comentado; and many of you, readers in Spain, recognize in Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez the magisterial author, you have read and enjoyed him in Una tarde con campanas, in El libro de Esther and in Árbol de Luna, among other titles.

That decade of the nineties was a decade of initiations. Today, with the passing of time, along with authors who, for reasons of space, have been left out of this chronicle, we can say that Venezuelan literature is a tangible and vigorous fact.

Israel Centeno (Caracas, 1958) is the author of Criaturas de la noche (Alfaguara. Venezuela, 2000). He has just published Iniciaciones (Periférica) in Spain.

{ Israel Centeno, Babelia, El País, 9 December 2006 }

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